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Alaska Native nonprofit acquires bison herd

September 23, 2018

KODIAK, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska Native nonprofit recently acquired a herd of bison as part of its grand plan for economic development.

The Old Harbor Alliance — a nonprofit organization made up of local Old Harbor residents, members of the Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor and shareholders and descendants of the Old Harbor Native Corporation — acquired the bison for the Sitkalidak Island Bison Herd project, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported .

“We’re a fishing community,” said Melissa Berns, a board member of the Old Harbor Alliance. “We’re not ranchers.”

“But, we’re learning,” she added.

The project is part of a larger five-pronged endeavor that includes an airport extension, the construction of a small boat harbor and a new city dock. The next step is a planned hydro-electric dam.

The idea is to decrease, and eventually try to reverse, out-migration by creating economic opportunities for the community.

“Our mission is . to build a strong community for all generations,” Berns said. “We left it broad so we can address all those social and economic and cultural needs of the community.”

All of the rural communities across the Kodiak archipelago have experienced a drop in population, but Old Harbor is one of the few that’s managed to take measures to address it.

The bison herd is a way of improving food security, by providing the community with a readily accessible supply of meat, which Berns described as “wonderful, lean and healthy.”

“It’s not only food security . as that herd grows it could be jobs and revenue,” said Old Harbor Alliance President Cynthia Berns. “There’s a lot of different opportunities that can be explored.”

The Old Harbor Alliance began discussing the purchase of the herd in 2015. The following year, it began making contact with ranchers and state officials — and became a member of the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, a national organization that aims to help bring back bison and buffalo to Natives.

“Learning from them and by getting in touch with local ranchers, we were able to gather as much information as we could to begin the planning for moving these animals,” Cynthia Berns said. “It was just so foreign to us. We know about fish as agriculture, but we didn’t know about bison as agriculture.”

By the time the deal was done, the herd was down to around 40 animals. Cynthia Berns explained that feeding Old Harbor’s roughly 230 residents was the initial motivation.

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Information from: Kodiak (Alaska) Daily Mirror, http://www.kodiakdailymirror.com

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